By Peter Christian
For the last week, every time I turned on the TV, radio, opened up my internet browser or looked at my Twitter feed I’ve found myself muttering the following three words under my breath: “Kurt Rambis? Really?”
Today, Rambis and the Minnesota Timberwolves made their merger official as the former Lakers assistant accepted the vacant Head Coach position for the team and thereby made me repeat the phrase yet again (by my count the 153rd time in 5 days), except this time with more gusto and loud enough that my mailman heard me say it from my living room.
Look, it’s not like I don’t like the hiring. I certainly like Rambis as the Timberwolves coach more than a candidate like Mark Jackson, but my hesitation to buy in, or “Drink the Kool-Aid” (not a rip-off of Miller Park Drunk), is that I still don’t know what Kurt Rambis brings to the team. I had the same feelings about the team hiring David Kahn as GM in May and to this point have been unfortunately proven to be right that he was probably the wrong hire. Maybe the win-loss record will change my feelings but with the roster and outlook that Kahn has created in less than 3 months don’t give me much hope. The hiring of the former player that was famously clothes lined by the former player that previously held the power that Kahn now wields and most recently held the seat that Rambis will fill (Kevin McHale) is great for irony’s sake, but how does it help progress a team that is young and in need of serious structure, development and guidance?
Sure, Rambis comes from a culture of winning and it is always good to bring in winners and yes, I’m aware that he has experience as a head coach in the NBA (minimal as it may be) but when was the last time you heard a young player say, “I really need to thank Coach Rambis for helping me become a better NBA player” or, “If it wasn’t for Coach Rambis teaching me x or y I never would have been the player I was?”
Truth is the majority of Rambis’ praise comes from people who don’t play the game. Writers and sports talk radio hosts have given a thumbs up on the hire here in Minnesota, I’m not ready to follow suit. Kahn has said that he chose Rambis because he will conform to all three determining factors Kahn requires from his coach (player development, up-tempo team, play youth even at the expense of wins) which says to me that Rambis was hired more for his willingness to “play ball” with Kahn and for his name recognition around the league (versus who I believe was the best candidate).
Full disclosure: I was less than an iota away from being completely sold on Elston Turner. In my eyes I believe more in the Rockets assistant’s ability in coaching and bringing along young players in the NBA. The debate of Rambis vs. Turner comes down to one key point. Head to head as top assistants for top teams in the Western Conference, Turner has been involved with the coaching of and development of more youthful players than Rambis has (quick, name me a rookie or 2nd year player that has flourished under the guidance of Rambis in the last decade. Can’t do it? Didn’t think so). Since the Timberwolves are chocked full of young players, don’t you think that David Kahn would want a guy who has a better track record of developing young players? Then again, logic hasn’t proven to be ingrained in the ether of David Kahn (you knew I was going to take that shot at Kahn eventually).
Rambis could be a very good coach for the Timberwolves; I just think that he wasn’t the best choice. I personally feel like Kahn was more attached to the more recognizable name and was enamored with the whole “Rambis replaces McHale” angle and selected his coach on that basis.
Unfortunately for Elston Turner he must bide his time and hope that his opportunity will come shortly. Unfortunately for my argument, Turner isn’t in a position where he can actively prove me right and Kahn wrong. Fortunately for the Timberwolves they have a coach and can now begin the process of becoming an actual NBA team. Or at least a shell of one.